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Ethnology of Tongareva



The weapons used by the Tongarevans were spears, clubs, a short truncheon, and stones. Also, women used a light club.

Generally in Polynesia the term for spear is tao. The Tongarevan spears (to) were made of coconut wood. A non-bearing tree trunk was cut off into lengths of two arm spans (maro). Longitudinal lines were drawn with charcoal along the log and the hard wood was cut down along a line by more than one worker until the soft fiber center was reached. The log was turned over and a similar line was cut down on the opposite side. Wedges of stone or wood were used to assist in splitting the log into halves, then into quarters, into eighths, and so on until the pieces approached the required size of the spear. The wood was rubbed down with the rough skin from the tail of a sting ray (heiheimanu). The skin was fastened to a stick to use as a rasp. When the required roundness was secured, the weapon was smoothed off with a fibrous mushroom growth (kana) that is found growing on the coral rocks in the lagoon. The material, when dried, acts like sandpaper. Lamont (15, p. 155) called this material “poerare,” which in its correct form was probably the true name of the material. The term kana, given to me, is the functional name which seems to have displaced the other.

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The spears averaged 10 to 12 feet in length, but some were as short as 6 feet. One end was pointed and the other blunt. The point was either continued by gradually diminishing the roundness of the wood, or widened and made two-edged. Kotzebue (14, p. 219) states that about a hand's breadth of other wood was fastened to the bottom of the long spears (lances) with strings of “cocoa-bast.” Choris (3, pl. 12) illustrates the two types of points, and it is evident from his drawing that the butt pieces mentioned by Kotzebue are also present. (See fig. 64, a, b.)

The Tautuan people stated that the hard point from the base of the tail of the sting ray was used for spear points (hoto heiheimanu). Some of my informants stated that the spears were from 2 to 6 maro in length, but 6 arm spans seems inordinately long. The spears were thrown. The following incantation was used with the spear:

Maireriki ua te tangata tu a—
E tu mai ana ma te to hoto,
Tu, tu, hio.

Maireriki alone is the man to stand—
He stands forth with the sting ray pointed spear,
He stands, he stands, to the end.